With the economic collapse and inevitable banker bailouts hitting national and local government budgets, politicians from all parties are determined to make working class people pay for the crisis of their system. While national Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems are courting big business support by swaggering into TV studios, boasting of how tough they will be next year, local officials are wasting no time in going on the attack.
Under these conditions, the recent and ongoing struggles against refuse worker wage cuts are serving as a taster for the far bigger fights that will soon be upon us. So yes, bin men and street cleaners in Liverpool, Leeds and Edinburgh have withdrawn their labour in union-led campaigns. But perhaps more significantly, they have had active support from various groups, which has gone far beyond the passive routine of letter-writing and appeals to politicians. Desperate times clearly call for more militant measures, and though these isolated events have not tipped the balance in the strikers’ favour, they point towards new workerist strategies in the months and years ahead.
The Liverpool dispute began on 28th August, and lasted for three weeks, before the GMB union reached agreement with Enterprise Liverpool on a slightly improved pay offer. The deal leaves the company needing to find a mere £270,000, instead of the alarmist £15 million they were talking about before the work to rules, overtime ban, and mini-strikes began. The local GMB leadership touted the mini-strikes as being a way of preventing strike-breaking, but it soon became clear that Assist Streetcare (based in the Aintree area of the city) were indeed providing scab labour.
In response, a number of activists from outside the mainstream ‘labour movement’ organised a picket and virtual blockade of Assist Streetcare, on the morning of 15th September. The gathering outside the Aintree depot was small enough to be safely ignored, but the numbers phoning, faxing and emailing their displeasure caused a shutdown of the company’s phone and email systems.
This virtual strategy seems to be relatively new in terms of UK class struggle. Last year it was used in support of Industrial Workers of the World member Chris Lockwood, who had been fired from his bar job at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield for organising. Previously to this, it had been quite a long-standing tactic of animal rights campaigners targeting businesses and research facilities deemed to be abusers.
The Edinburgh cleaning workers have also been undermined by scab labour, but activists from the IWW and Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty amongst others have found their own method for dealing with it. At the time of writing, the ‘scab stoppers’ have blockaded scab lorries three times, detaining them for hours and exchanging views with the strike-breakers, before police cleared the way for the onward march of capital. However, no arrests have yet been made.
The same can not be said in Leeds, where the all-out strike against £6,000 pay cuts began on 7th September, and emotions seem to be running especially high. Supporters of the strike took bin bags of their rubbish to the doorstep of the man they called “the source of the problem”, council leader Richard Brett. Six people were arrested and bailed to return in November.
Of course, none of these tactics are entirely original; variations of each have been used by previous generations of class fighters. What makes their modified reappearance so significant is that such militancy must surely increase as the historic crisis confronting working people continues to deepen, and the union tops reveal themselves to be class collaborators. Furthermore, the widespread availability of internet technology provides the opportunity for such struggles to link up with each other, forging class solidarity around the globe, and allowing workers of all nations to truly unite.